The new Charon QC – The Blawg

1 Feb

Well – here we are back on WordPress with a new blog while I sort out my old one with the ‘web hosts’.

I will be writing regularly on this domain now.




Posting Charon QC posts from my Musiotunya blog for now

31 Jan

While I sort out a disputed bill from the ‘people’ who host my Charon QC blog I will be posting Charon posts on this blog


Chapter 4: Like a moth to a flame

7 Sep

The meaning of the Greek word ψυχή, or psyche, was “life”. The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote a treatise on the psyche;  in Latin De Anima and in English On the Soul.  Thoughts of Aristotle were prompted in Carver’s mind when a brown moth, small wings tinged with gold flecks, landed on his desk to the left of his iMac, settling but an inch in front of a half empty bottle of cheap claret. Carver watched the moth for several minutes.  The moth was very still.

“Interesting…..haven’t ever seen a moth land on my desk.”  Carver said out loud. “They say that the flight of a moth, a butterfly even, is redolent of the human soul…whatever that is.  A disciple of the founder of Taoism, Lao-Tzu, would fly as a butterfly at night, returning to shape as man in the morning, unsure whether he was man or butterfly. The butterfly, a symbol of the soul in many cultures, a figment of the soul of an ancestor in some,  and the choice of metaphor by many writers, including a celebrated user of stream of consciousness or interior monologue, Virginia Woolf, in her essay The Moth.

Dost thou shun the great behest,
This, Become by Dying!
Thou art but a sorry guest
On this dull earth staying.

Selige Sehnsucht, Goethe

Carver reached for the tumbler of claret to his left and the moth took flight, hovered briefly by the desk light and then flew into the night through the open window facing onto The Thames.  The moth was gone.

Carver glanced at his watch.  It was 10.20 pm.


Carver woke early the next morning, showered and shaved and wearing a freshly laundered blue and white Japanese yukata settled down to read the online newspapers with a double espresso and a few Marlboros. The Italians, the great coffee makers of the world, had the right idea when it came to a kick in the morning.  A strong double espresso sharpened the mind, or at least gave the illusion of doing so.

The Skype panel came up on the iMac screen and Carver answered the call.

“Helen… good morning… a bit early for you?” Mungo said, smiling.

“Hi Mungo…sorry it is so early but I saw that you were online.  I was going through some old emails and Word documents from six years ago when I worked for you, to see if I could find the original draft contract the company I joined sent me at the time, which I was sure had no restrictive covenants in it…. but that’s not why I am calling.  I found a Word document you sent on to me which must have been an error because it sure as hell has nothing to do with law or your firm.  I don’t even remember reading it at the time,”

Carver stiffened slightly, but his face betrayed no tension; the ability to mask emotion founded on years of practice as a lawyer in complex corporate-commercial negotiations.

“What is the document about, Helen?”

“I’ve just sent it to you by email.  You should have it now.”

Carver downloaded the document from the email, opened it and read it.  Carver’s pulse raced as he read through the document. Carver, usually extremely careful, had not only failed to password protect the document, he had sent it to Linda who then worked for him running his outer office and administration for his team of associates.  The document, in draft with annotations and dated October 1998, was a brief report addressed to a senior official at The Foreign & Commonwealth Office appraising the capability of the Zambian security services unit headed by James Phiri to extract a high ranking army officer in Zimbabwe to Zambia to enable the Commercial attache at the High Commission in Lusaka, a convenient designation for the local M16 presence, to interview the army officer. The paragraph which concerned Carver most, which Helen had read, read as follows:

“Phiri’s team will be able to carry out this operation.  If necessary, I know James Phiri well, I will be more than happy to go out to Lusaka and assist with this matter directly. There are risks in extraction.  Major Madzikatire is ex-Sandhurst and is what we call,  a hands on commander.  He doesn’t mind doing the business himself and apart from being very experienced in close protection, he is a regional commander of a particularly unpleasant  ‘goon squad’ reporting directly, or pretty close to directly, to Mugabe himself.   He will be heavily guarded by a small team of highly trained men.  My advice is that extraction is not the ideal way of dealing with is. A team of four will be able to deal with Madzikatire’s bodyguard squad, as they will not be expecting a quick incursion strike, and interviewing in situ is likely to yield the best results.  If you are not comfortable with your local to go in, I am more than happy to assist, subject to the usual briefing. “

The document had never been sent to the FCO; the need for it superseded  by the CIA getting to Madzikatire first.

Carver turned back towards the iMac screen.

“Thanks for sending this over.  Nothing to worry about.”  Carver’s tone smooth and avuncular.

“Mungo!… that document scared me.” Helen said, a note of tension clear in her voice.  “That document covers some pretty heavy stuff… were you in the Intelligence Service?”

Mungo laughed, dissimulation a well practised skill.  “No Helen, I knew James Phiri years ago when I worked in Africa and he had contacted the FCO in London during their discussions to say that they would find my advice useful.  Nothing to worry about.”

“Mungo… I know you well.  We have been friends for some time. You are brushing me off.”

Carver laughed and lit a Marlboro.  “Helen… It’s too early for this… we’ll chat over dinner tonight and I’ll tell you a bit about the old days before I turned into lawyeroraptor venalus.  See you tonight.  7.30 Julie’s Restaurant in Holland Park”

Carver quickly ended the conversation by referring to Helen’s contract problem and assured her that he would sort that issue with her that evening.

Carver drained his tumbler of claret and said, his tone thoughtful “Maybe the moth is a bad omen after all.”

Carver occasionally enjoyed a glass of wine in the morning, if there was any left from a bottle from the night before.  That, too, sharpened the mind.

Chapter 3: Reflections in an evening wind

3 Sep

Audio version

The late lunch with Helen had been enjoyable.  Carver had met her at Brinkley’s a couple of weeks before and when she told him that she was doing an LPC at The College of Law, they started talking about law, inevitably, and  Carver had offered to have a chat about City practice over a coffee and asked her to call him.

Carver sat at his desk in his study.  He had a clear view over The Thames to Chelsea opposite.  Pouring a glass of a cheap Claret into the tumbler to his left, he lit a Marlboro and sat back in the high backed wooden chair.  Carver did not like office style chairs to work on and even in his office at the firm his chair was carved from wood, late Victorian.   He glanced at his twitter stream on the large  iMac screen, scrolled down to catch up on the thoughts and events of those he followed and drank some of the wine.

OMG!! The new director here is a wanker. One aspires to be a pâtissier, but today I shall demand a pay rise.

The sharp, surreal, tweets by @xxxxxxxx always amused Carver.  Some of the tweets were seriously surreal.

“My real life friends… how many of them do I see now? Three are dead; two in car crashes and one from cancer.  Most of my other friends from twenty years ago, the days of amusing dinner parties and holidays together, have gone on to raise families and settle into family life.”

Carver drank from his tumbler and lit another Marlboro.  “I went to a few of their dinners in Chiswick and Notting Hill and found that I had absolutely no interest in the local primary schools, or their plans to send Johnny boy or Camilla off to Westminster, Eton or St Paul’s.  I had even less interest in tales of bravery in the field and golf shots and scores.”

Carver laughed as he recalled when he was in Zambia, back in Lusaka briefly in 1971 for three days R&R, being asked to leave the Lusaka Golf Club course by the Club Secretary.  He and another of the patrol team, a Kiwi in his late twenties, late of the NZ Army, who commanded the small unit, had bought some local marijuana, sieved it and disposing of the tobacco in a pack of 20 Peter Stuyvesant, had filled the empty filtered cigarettes with the local ‘laughing grass’ – Malawi Black, Carver remembered.  They had then smoked several of the newly made ‘cigarettes’ and came up with the plan to have a quick round of Golf.  Membership came as part of the recruitment package compensation and was paid for by the Government of Zambia.  Finding that his golf was seriously impaired, Carver had picked up his golf ball and threw it down the fairway towards the flag.  The two men then played three holes using this unusual method of getting ball from tee to the flag, substituting for putting by rolling the ball into the hole on the greens, before being spotted by the Club Secretary. Three weeks after that, Dave was dead, shot dead while on a routine river patrol in the North. It was a long time in the past.  Forty years in the past.

Carver sat back, raised his glass and said, quietly “To Dave.”

Carver refilled his tumbler, laughed sardonically and sang…

I am the very model of a modern City lawyer,
I work with vegetables, animals, and minerals,
I know the Laws of England, and I quote the reports historical
From Equity  to Land Law, in order categorical;
I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand fee bills, both the simple and quadratical,
About bimonthly billing I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,
With many cheerful facts about the squares and the legal obtuse

“Ah well… the law has, at least, paid the wine bills and provided a decent living.  I used to enjoy the law, but it is now about social media, commodisation, billing billing and billing, the opportunities from the Legal Services Act and “Legal Big Fucking Bang” next year. Some lawyers are tweeting away about their practices and obsessing about their Klout scores. The humanity and enjoyment had long disappeared.  The hours have become longer and the firm now operates a 24/7 service on demand. Madness. It was a profession when I joined Pitcairn Hogg from the part-time teaching at King’s twenty-five years ago.  Now it’s a racket. A multi-billion pound racket which brings in good tax revenues for H.M Treasury and leaves some City lawyers in a very different world, a private and discreet world, almost detached from the legal profession which most general practitioners and even lawyers at large regional firms work within.  Still… at least the bankers got the blame and not the lawyers who drafted the legal documentation.  We, after all, were only following orders.  I should have gone to the Bar…..”

An email pinged into Carver’s in-box. Carver read it:  “Hi Mungo.  “I need your advice.  I’m working as a director for a small company running their HR and central administration. I now want to set up my own operation and leave.  The problem is that my contract states that I have to give three months notice and that I may not work for a competitor or set up a competitive business for five years within 150 miles of London.  I’ve  done a bit of research on Google about restrictive covenants, but I need a professional opinion.  I have attached a pdf of the contract.  Would you mind having a quick look and give me a call when you can?”

Carver downloaded the contract, read through the general provisions quickly,  and  read the restrictive covenants.

Carver sat back in the chair and dialled Linda Ortega’s number. Carver chatted with Linda for a few minutes, catching up on news and then turned to the contract.

“The good news is that this contract is very badly drafted and has several inconsistent provisions.  The good news is that there is no chance that the restraint covenants will be upheld.  In the context of your company’s business, they are far to wide in geographical scope and almost certainly in terms of time.  In any event, from what you told me, your new business is not in the same field, so another piece of good news.  They can’t restrict you from setting up a business in a field they are not operating in.”

“But they plan to move into that field in the future, or so they told me when I discussed my plan  to leave and told them, foolishly it seems, about the area I wanted to go into.”

“Linda….They can huff and puff as much as they like.  They are trying to bully you, scare you off.  They cannot restrict you from working in a field which they are not active in even if they may have plans to go into that field at a later date.  They are not in that field at present.”

“They said they will sue me.”

“Excellent.  Let them. I’ll happily take their money off them in costs.  They will lose.”

“If they win?”

Carver laughed.  “They won’t.  Their lawyers won’t go anywhere near litigation with this nonsense.  If you are free for dinner tomorrow, I can go through the reasons in more detail, if we really must, and we can get drunk.”

Carver ended the call and put the dinner arrangement in his iCal on the iMac.  Pouring another tumbler of Claret and lighting a Marlboro, Carver sat back on the hard chair, double clicked on Puccini’s La bohème on iTunes then leaned forward.  Reaching into the right cupboard of his old ‘Partner’ desk he out took a reconditioned Toshiba laptop, one of five he had purchased second hand and which he had never used and  switched it on.  Logging into, Carver accessed one of 20 email accounts he had set up some time back, selected an account he had never used and composed a short email.

Subject:  Three Blind Mice
From:     Carvingknife13 <>
Date:      10 September 2010 20:10:31 GMT+01:00
To:          Dambo196<>

Can you source Glock 18 ported selective fire 31/33 round capacity, folding stock  + 200 rounds?  Needless to say it  needs to be virgin.

Carver plugged a brand new pay-as-you-go dongle he had purchased earlier in the day into the laptop and three minutes later clicked ‘Send’.

Carver sat back in the chair to wait. He received a reply five minutes later.

From:     Dambo196<>
Subject:  RE: Three Blind Mice
Date:       10 September 2010 20:15:18 GMT+01:00
To:           Carvingknife13 <>

Confirm – Virgin.  Drop 08.30 11/9 – text address – number to follow.  £885 incl via Paypal

Carver wired the money through to the Paypal account, waited for the follow up email with a mobile number, switched off the laptop, removed the dongle and smashed the dongle beyond use on the carpet with a hammer which he kept in one of the desk drawers. Carver then texted his address to his friend from the old days, a friend he had not seen for a few years.  They had kept in touch, though.  Friends from the old days often did.

Carver, slipped on a pair of latex gloves purchased from Boots that afternoon, removed the hard drive from the laptop, and slipped it into a jiffy bag for disposal by his friend when they met at 08.30 hrs the next morning.

Sitting back in his chair, Carver lit a Marlboro and said softly “Three blind mice…. see how they run…. A Glock 18 with selective fire, allowing automatic  and semi-automatic mode fire, will be rather more forceful than a fucking carving knife if any turkeys decide they want to visit me.”

Carver picked up his tumbler of wine, drained it, refilled the tumbler and laughed…”Well… that was a varied day… a bit of advice dispensed to a young lawyer, a bit of legal advice pro bono to a close friend and  now I have the kit if I need it. The Glock  gives voice to silence…as George Burns once said….’Too bad the only people who know how to run the country are busy driving cabs and cutting hair’…. no truer a word spoken in jest with the PR  clown and his Bullingdon cronies in charge of the asylum.”

Chapter 2: Diamonds are a girl’s best friend… but for what purpose?

1 Sep

Audio version

Carver returned on the mid-morning Eurostar and went straight to his apartment on the river front at Battersea.  Two answerphone messages were waiting for him: one from Helen, a young woman in her early thirties he had met at Brinkley’s in Little Chelsea two weeks before, the other from a Jakob Van Neekirk. Carver pressed the button to listen to the message again. The speaker’s strong South African accent  marked him as an Afrikaner, probably from Natal.  It was difficult to be sure, the accent had softened, most likely from time resident or working in Europe and the States. “Mr Carver, you don’t know me.  My name is Jakob Van Neekirk. I work with Bornwall Ngaleka from time to time.  He briefed me on your meeting in Chiswick. I’d like to talk to you.  Call me on Area code (212)  221 1942.” Carver recognised the New York dialling code, quickly searched Google to see if it threw up anything for the telephone number and noted that the number was registered to the offices of  Tri-SecNY Inc., a specialist security services firm.  The website gave little information apart from revealing that the firm were specialists in fraud, counter industrial espionage and covert surveillance.  Carver made himself an espresso in his Gaggia Classic, a device which gave him more pleasure in the operating than the results he managed to achieve with it, and checking the time in New York – it was 7.30 am – dialled the number. “Tri-Sec, good morning.”  The clipped professional greeting not unexpected. “I’d like to speak to Jakob Van Neekirk, please” “Putting you through, please hold.” “Van Kneekirk.” “Good morning, Mr Van Kneekirk.  Mungo Carver.  You suggested that I call you.” “Mr Carver, thanks for calling back.  Let me explain that I am ex-Company.  I did some work for them eleven years ago in Zambia with James Phiri’s unit. Langley were working closely with Phiri on dirty diamonds from Zimbabwe which they believed were funding Al-Qaeda insurgency in Somalia and Yemen. 9/11 had not happened but you may recall the  Luxor massacre of November 17, 1997 which we believe was funded by Bin Laden. Van Heerden, all those years ago before his demise wasn’t just involved in gun-running.  He was involved in dirty diamonds from Southern Rhodesia, what is now Zimbabwe.  When Bornwall mentioned the name Sheila du Plessis on the phone, I immediately made the connection with Van Heerden.  I was one of the team that checked Sheila du Plessis out when she joined the agency, a particularly thorough check given that her father was Van Heerden. We took the view that she had not known her father.  She was three when he died and her Mother, Elaine McFarlane, bland middle class background and a graduate of Syracuse, was a US citizen and we had zilch on her.  She was clean. In April 2008, du Plessis suddenly resigned from The Company on the pretext that she wanted to have a family.  I was tasked with looking into that pretext a bit more closely.  I discovered that she had made several recent trips to Lusaka and, more significantly, to Harare in Zimbabwe.  There was little obvious reason for an American women of 40, about to have a family, to go to that shithole of a country under Mugabe.  It isn’t exactly a holiday resort.”  Van Neekirk paused for a moment. “Connections are easy to draw… in this case dirty diamonds… but, in this case, impossible to prove and it was decided higher up that the file should be left open but no further action taken. My own view, for what it is worth to you, is that du Plessis was and may still be  up to her tits in dirty diamonds. Why, in terms of specifics, I don’t know, but I have a hunch, a strong hunch that she is working with a group of fairly extreme white expatriate Rhodesians who moved from Zim to Zambia when things got too hot for them and the locals started shooting white farmers to get the land.  I suspect, that Elaine McFarlane knew more than we thought about her lover’s activities and she was living with him at the time he died.  Elaine McFarlane was killed in a car crash in 2006.  We have no information.  The car crash was on the road between Victoria Falls and Harare. What the fuck, I ask myself, was she doing out there in 2006? Ngaleka and Phiri, Ngaleka tells me, do not think my hunch is off the wall.  If I am right, then Ms du Plessis, who does not how much you or Phiri  know about her father,  will want to close off that loose end. Remember, her mother bought a picture of you and Phiri from the driver after you and Phiri took Van Heerden away from the game. Phiri didn’t know anything about Van Heerden’s dirty diamond interests.  He was only concerned then, as you, with the incursions into Zambia from the north and the gun-running.  Ms du Plessis doesn’t know how little you and Phiri knew.  It is only conjecture, but I think it is conjecture you should take into account in assessing the potential threat.” Carver didn’t take any notes.  He didn’t need to.  He had recorded the entire conversation on Skype with Call Recorder.  Carver asked a few questions to focus in on the dirty diamond trade in Zimbabwe.  “OK Jakob, thanks for this, where do I send the fee?” Van Neekirk replied firmly “Already taken care of.  Good luck.”


“So…”  Carver said out loud, sitting back in the chair at his desk “I appear to have a potentially psychotic ex CIA diamond smuggler, whose father we took down, who wants more than a hot date at Brinkley’s in Chelsea. Ha!  Well… this could bring a bit of spice into my life” Carver picked up his Samsung and dialled.  “Helen… Hi…Mungo…. I’ve been on a business strip….  Just got back.  Fancy a bit of late nosebag? …. Excellent….. meet me at The Bluebird on the King’s Road…. half an hour suit you?”

Chapter 1: More art with less matter

1 Sep

Carver arrived at the office early, 6.00 am early, to deal with a couple of client matters and to clear his diary for three days.  Richard MacPherson, a sardonic Glaswegian and the managing partner of the firm, usually arrived at 7.00. Carver had emailed him the night before to book a short fifteen minute meeting at 7.15.

Pitcairn Hogg, described as a niche practice by the describers of law firms, is a 24/7 law firm, founded in 1911 by two Scotsmen who took the canny view then that there was more to be made from practising law in England than in Scotland. It amused Carver, who described himself as an ‘expat’ Scot, that in 2011, a hundred years later,  seven of the twenty-two partners were Scots by birth but English by legal background and qualification. MacPherson, untroubled by expertise in the laws of England, or indeed any other nation, was a very astute businessman with a very wide social and professional list of contacts; a pleasing result of which was that the firm punched well above its weight in fee income and influence.

Carver settled down to deal with the client matters and then dictated a detailed set of briefing notes to his team of six associates to cover the next three days while he was away.

“Good morning, Tricky”  Carver said airily as he walked into MacPherson’s office and took a seat.  “I’ll keep this brief.  I’m going to be out of town for three days on a personal matter.  I’ve covered the position with a brief to my team.  In the unlikely event that you need to contact me, use my personal mobile number, not the firm’s Blackberry number for me.”

“A new lover?” MacPherson asked, a thin smile playing on his lips.

“Ha! Sadly not, Tricky.  A bit of unfinished business.  I see you have a new framed photograph with your clan chief Sir William MacPherson.  I didn’t know that you went in for all that ‘Brigadoonery and Tamfoolery’.  I’ve always found  the kilt, more suited to highland wars in the glens and on the moors than formal dinners,  looks rather bizarre when teamed up with a white shirt and black bow tie…but there you are.  Haven’t worn a kilt since I was at that detention centre in the hills of Perthshire.  Interesting man, Bill Macpherson.  Had a couple of cases before him.  Sanguine approach. ”

MacPherson laughed “Aye, nothing I like better than a Ceilidh, a few Gay Gordons and a Dashing White Sergeant.”

The two men talked for five minutes or so about firm business and then Carver went back to his office on the floor below.

“Bonjour, Hotel Raphael?  I’m calling from London and would like to book a room for one night, tonight.”  Carver then booked a ticket on the Eurostar to Paris  and sent a text to Jean-Pierre Brasseur, a former agent with the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, to confirm arrangements for their meeting at the hotel at 6.00 pm.

Carver travelled light, the habits of his time in Zambia still present in his routines. A Macbook, shaving kit, a change of clothes and his cheap Samsung personal mobile, all he needed.  The train journey to Paris allowed Carver time to think. He made one call to his PA, Jac, to brief her on matters she may need to attend to during his three days away.


The Hotel Raphael in Paris was a particular favourite for Carver. The entrance dramatic, a paneled gallery hung with paintings off which, the restaurant and a small, discreet and slightly louche bar; a bar where Carver, on a particularly surreal weekend at the end of the Eighties, had got drunk with Serge Gainsbourg the famous Parisian singer, actor and film director, drunk brandy from a high heeled shoe belonging to a beautiful English woman who was staying at the hotel with her husband and a group of friends, danced on the bar and racked up a bar bill for two days of well over a thousand pounds.   Carver popped his head round the door.  The Bar was much as he remembered it.  Carver went up to his room.  The rooms at the hotel are all different, elegant and beautifully furnished with Regency, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Empire, and Directoire antiques.

Carver sat down at a writing desk, and checked his emails on the Macbook.  A text came through from Brasseur to confirm the meeting at 6.00 pm.

Brasseur, a swarthy man from Lyon, thick set and well built, walked into the bar and greeted Carver.  Carver did not go in for the continental habit of kissing men on greeting, nor, for that matter of kissing women he did not know well as a friend. Brasseur knew this and shook Carver’s hand.

“It has been a few years, mon ami.”

“It has.  The last time I saw you was in 1994 with James Phiri when he came over to London.  I seem to recall that you were liaising with each other on French interests in Africa at the time. Phiri told me that you were the General Manager of a Peugeot dealership in Lusaka  as a joke which I was more than happy to play along with.”

Brasseur laughed “Ah yes…. I did not have a clue what you were talking about. The English humour is an acquired taste, I think?”  A waiter came over to the table and took their drinks order.  Both men ordered whisky and soda and settled into a long conversation in English.  Carver could speak French, but it was not a pleasing experience for Brasseur to listen to  and while it amused Carver to speak Franglais, promoted assiduously by Miles Kington, a predecessor of his at Glenalmond, the public school in the hills of Perthshire. English was the language needed for this conversation.

“I left the DGSE in October 2008, roughly the same time that Sheila du Plessis left the CIA.  We were fully aware of Sheila du Plessis’ movements in Paris and in a number of African countries at the time. I met her once.  She is sharp and has, how you say… the tenacity?. If she finds out your identity, she will come after you.” Brasseur paused and said quietly “And she will try to kill you.  You killed her father.”

“Jean-Paul.  I make no comment on that.”

Brasseur smiled “D’Accord…. bien sur… but, you were there.  Van Heerden did not  fire four bullets into his own head and chest with an old CZ with no traceable history. I will do what I can to find out what Ms du Plessis is up to, but I do not have the access to information I used to have. I can tell you that she rented an apartment in Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill in 2007, but the trail goes cold from there, that I know.”

Brasseur pushed an envelope across the table.  “Photographs from 2008, the address in Notting Hill, two hotmail addresses and two mobile numbers.  I doubt that the email and mobile details are up to date.  That would be very careless and Ms du Plessis is not careless.”

Carver opened the envelope and took out two colour photographs. Both pictures showed a smiling, very attractive woman, slim with dark auburn hair cut to just above the collar of the blouse she was wearing.   Putting the photographs back in the envelope, Carver slipped the envelope into his laptop bag and said “Right….we shall dine on oysters and drink some Claret, or Bordeaux as you chaps persist in calling it.   I assume that you know a good place, this being your manor?”

Mosi-oa-Tunya: The Smoke That Thunders – Prologue

31 Aug

A novel noir, an experiment:  An experiment which may never be completed… As they say…all references to people living or dead or imagined are just that… purely imaginary….

Audio versionMusi-oa-Tunya


A return to Lusaka, Zambia (November 1971)

The BOAC VC10 broke through low cloud and began the final approach into Lusaka International airport.  The aircraft landed, the powerful engines screaming as the reverse power was applied and sped down the runway past the terminal building as the landing was completed, before turning to taxi back and park.  Carver cleared immigration and customs in fifteen to twenty minutes.  It was not hot; more like the temperature of an English summer day in the mid-seventies farenheit.  He walked into the arrivals hall which was not that busy. No other international flights were  expected that afternoon  and the local Zambia Airways flights had departed for the Copperbelt and other points earlier in the day.

Carver spotted James Phiri, heavily muscled wearing a fawn safari suit, standing by a white Peugeot 504 with GRZ government plates.  The car was parked about sixty yards away and Carver made his way over, an overnight bag slung over his left shoulder.  There was no need to travel with anything but a change  of clothes and shaving kit.  Everything he would need  would be provided by Phiri.

“James”  Carver said smiling,  gripping his former colleague’s hand “Good to see you.”  James Phiri smiled, grasped Carver’s right arm as the two men shook hands.  “Yes, it is good to see you back in Lusaka.”

“Unfortunately I won’t have time to take in the sights and pleasures of Lusaka afterwards. “ Carver said drily, easing himself into the back of the Peugeot.  James Phiri climbed into the back of the car after him.  The drive to Lusaka took about 20 minutes.  Not much had changed in the two years since Carver had last been in Lusaka.  The car pulled into the Inter-Continental Hotel on Haile Selassi Avenue and within five minutes the two men were looking carefully at a map of Zambia’s Copperbelt in the North.  The room had been booked in the name of Daniel Musokotwane, a name of convenience, and had been paid for in cash.

The flight the next morning to Ndola, some 170 miles north by air on a Zambia Airways flight, took less than an hour.  Carver and Phiri were met by two Zambians in a new unmarked, but unmistakeably military spec, Landrover.  A six hour drive, most of it off road on bush roads, towards the Zambian border with Zaire lay ahead of them.  Carver and Phiri discussed the details of the strike mission and checked the kit which had been packed ready for them in green bergens.

“So Mungo.”  Phiri said, with a broad smile “Unfinished business to be finished.”

“Yes, indeed. I’m surprised that you found Van Heerden.  I’m even more surprised that he came back. Remind me.  How many of your people did he kill with his mercenaries?”

Phiri’s expression hardened. “Five of my team and twenty-three villagers. They raped five young girls and then  crucified them on trees and bayoneted all five.  Two were still alive, if you can call their agony life, when we arrived in the village.  We were too late to do anything but take them down and ease their pain.  We couldn’t even get them out by helicopter.  They died within half an hour.”

Carver sat back on the bench in the back of the landrover.  “The orders are flexible, I assume, in the event of resistance?”

“Affirmative.  Our instructions are to arrest so he can stand trial, but if we meet resistance we are authorised to return fire. Standard procedure.”

“Ok.  So flexible. You never really did explain…. why me?”

“Van Heerden is a South African national.  He hasn’t been in South Africa for five years.  Put it down to politics. Our problems in the North, with what is now Zaire, are not widely known.  This suits the government. Van Heerden supplied the Zaire military.  It suited their purposes to have instability on the Northern borders, borders drawn up in colonial times without regard for tribal boundaries, as you know, and now he has few friends in Zaire.  The Zaire government has   pulled back on incursive activity and dropped him like a hot potato eighteen months ago.”  Phiri paused and said with a thin smile “Why you?  It is straightforward.   It is straightforward. You know Van Heerden by reputation.  You know the terrain and you were the best CQB man I have ever worked with despite your young age.  I also wanted to give you a chance to see what we tried to do two years ago finished.”

“But I have been away from it for nearly two years.  I’m doing a fucking law degree now for christ sake.  Gone straight.”

Phiri  laughed.  “Yes, Mungo….  so why do you spend hours down at the Knightsbridge Gun Club shooting? I hear that you are still 148/150 on fifteen rounds at 25 metres with a 9mm…..and why are you teaching Kendo? …so you can chop fucking pineapples up at dinner parties as a party trick with your katana?  Is that part of your ‘Rule of law’ degree course?”

“The Knightsbridge Gun Club is simply a shooting club, James…full of fucks from the City who want to play soldiers.”

“Ah.”  Phiri said caustically “A club run by two guys, one ex SAS, the other ex 3 Para, and they teach Police and reservists to shoot? OK… just a gun club for sporting stockbrokers and lawyers, you say… yes OK, bwana, I believe you.”

“Ok… go on.  I’ve got the point with your caustic use of bwana

“One of my London…ah, shall we say ‘friends’,  saw you shooting.  I wouldn’t have asked you to join me if I was not sure of your fitness and capability.  I wouldn’t risk your life, nor would I have put myself at risk.  This is a four, but the two big guys in front, as you know, are there for back up and extraction if required. Only you and I are going in.  Van Heerden is on his own. At worst, he has a goon who is his driver and that guy is not a soldier.  Van Heerden doesn’t even suspect that we know he is in the country, let alone his location. This is an arrest. It is not a Police operation.  It is an  intelligence operation and my director wants me to handle it.”

Phiri  laughed and said, a hard edge to his tone “I was fortunate in going to Tonbridge. I then went to Sandhurst. Our army is still trained by the British.  It is based on British methods. You worked with us for two years after school.  We have only been independent since 1964. Kaunda has control.  There is no opposition.  We now have a one party state. The former vice-president, Simon Kapepwe,  has gone. British and  South African mining interests are still important. Rhodesia is a different problem.  Smith will eventually go.  Who knows what that will bring? I am 10 years older than you. My life is here.  Your life is in Britain, but Africa is in your past. It is in your blood.  And you are here because of that and because of our past together. This is very small, off the radar in Press terms, off the radar in terms of government policy, and not a military priority; but still important enough to deal with quickly at security level.  Van Heerden has to stand trial or make his choice if he puts up a fight.”

The landrover parked up in a copse, three miles from the target location.  Sound travelled long distances in the quiet air in this part of the savannah. Two and a half hours later,  Van Heerden was dead.  Two bullets to the forehead and two to the heart from a CZ 52, a handgun with a high muzzle energy, fired at eight metres,  took Van Heerden down. Death was instantaneous.  Phiri had shouted “Armed Officers. Put your hands up.”  Van Heerden had chosen to draw a handgun from a concealed carry holster behind his back.


Fleet Street, London 2010

Carver sat at his desk in his corner office at a leading London law firm.  He sat back in the wooden late Victorian  chair, lit a Marlboro, a Red Marlboro. Carver always remarked, when asked why he smoked the heavier tar content cigarettes, that Marlboro Lites were for amateurs.  Smoking bans, in so far as they applied to his office, were also for amateurs. It helped that he headed the highest grossing department in the firm and was described in the Chambers Directory as “A leading City rainmaker, a lawyer with a sharp intelligence who cut to the core and then to the quick.” and could largely ignore the memoranda from the managing partner on the matter of Health & Safety laws and smoking bans. His first memo on the matter to the managing partner has been brief:  “Are you really going to grass me up?”. The second and final memo he had to send was terse:  “I refer you to the reply given in Arkell v Pressdram (1971).”

“I’m nearly 62 years of age.” he said, venting his irritation by speaking his thoughts out loud, a technique he often used to focus his thinking.   “I’ve managed to part with two wives on good terms without too much collateral damage. I’ve just had a lucky escape from a woman who wants me to read self improvement books, give up  smoking, give up drinking and become a Stepford husband…or worse, a ‘ life partner’.   I head up the Commercial group.  I should have gone to the fucking Bar where I would, at least, have some independence, and I am bored rigid, bored with law, bored with lawyers and bored with the vacuous greed and vapidity of the lawyers who manage this fucking Panopticon of a law firm.”

Carver stubbed the cigarette out in an ashtray liberated, no doubt, from Quaglino’s years before by a client who slipped it into his coat pocket after a drunken dinner, and called his PA.

“Mungo, what can I do for you?”  Jac asked.  “Time for nosebag?”  Jac came over to London from Australia ten years before, after her graduating in Sydney, and decided to stay.  Carver enjoyed Jac’s enthusiasm and her extrovert no rules approach to life and business.

“Time for nosebag.  Please book me a table for one at any restaurant owned by that fool of a chef who has Tourettes.  I don’t care which one, if he still has more than one restaurant. I want to watch fuckwits and get drunk.”

Jac laughed “Get drunk?  So, you aren’t planning to attend the partner’s meeting this afternoon?”

“Please convey my very best wishes to the managing partner and explain to him that I have to consult with counsel on a matter of extreme sensitivity to the firm at his Chambers… a leading and suitably avaricious Silk.  You had better add  “a matter of great billable value to the firm” for added plausibility.   On second thoughts, forget Chef Tourettes.  He is boring.  I’ll grab a cab in Fleet Street.  Thanks Jacstar.  I will be back tomorrow.”

Carver hailed a cab in Fleet Street and settled back in the seat, replaced the SIM card in his cheap Samsung phone with a SIM card purchased from a corner shop earlier in the day and dialled.

“Mr Ngaleka?”  Carver asked as the call was answered. “Meet me at The Bollo, Bollo Lane, Chiswick in 40 minutes.”

Carver took the SIM card out of the phone, put his Orange SIM card back in and snapped the SIM card he had just used in two. Leaning forward, Carver asked the driver to pull up into a side street on the pretext that he had changed his plans, paid the driver and discreetly dropped the two pieces of the broken SIM card down a drain by the side of the road. Carver walked up Southampton Row towards Russell Square and caught the tube  to Hammersmith, changing to the District Line for Chiswick Park, a short walk from there to The Bollo in Chiswick.

It had been five years since Carver had last used The Bollo.  The decor had changed, but the layout was familiar.  He took a seat at a wooden table outside under an awning with his back to a hedge and waited. A waitress came out.  Carver ordered a glass of house red and paid for it with cash.  Lunchtime trade, as Carver had predicted, was light.   The vantage point outside allowed him to see the road leading up from Chiswick High Street and Chiswick Park clearly.

A silver Mercedes C200 estate pulled up and parked in Ivy Crescent opposite the pub. A well built african, mid-thirties, casually dressed in jeans and a black polo shirt, walked across the road. Carver nodded and Ngaleka walked over and sat down on the bench opposite.  Ngaleka ordered a glass of fresh orange juice and paid the waitress in cash.

The Zambian smiled and said warmly;  the pronounced Zambian accent, rhythm and inflection which Carver knew so well, clear in his speech.  “Thank you for meeting me. The Colonel sends his warm wishes.  He has retired, of course, but he continues to take a keen interest.  He said that you would meet  me if I mentioned ‘Van Heerden’ and used his name.”

“Is your High Commission aware of your presence in London?”

Ngaleka laughed “Yes, of course, but only to the extent that I am visiting London to visit my younger sister who is doing a degree at King’s, which, of course, I am.”

“Van Heerden was nearly forty years ago. Did you work with Phiri for long?”

“For the last three years of his time as director of our Central Africa unit. He retired seven years ago.”

“Give me the location of Van Heerden and the weapon used.  Phiri would have given you that information to ensure that I know you are who you say you are.”

“Chililabombwe, CZ 52.”

“OK, what can I do for you Mr Ngaleka?”

“Bornwall… call me Bornwall, please.” Ngaleka replied, extending his right hand and shaking Carver’s in the warm greeting of friends used by many throughout Africa; a handshake with several movements of the hand and changing grips.

“Mungo” Carver replied with a broad smile.

“We have a small problem. Van Heerden had an illegitimate daughter in 1968. She is the problem. Sheila du Plessis, 42 years of age, Yale summa cum laude (1989), took US citizenship in 1984 through her American mother and renounced her South African citizenship and  passport. CIA (1990-2008), last known location, and we have checked with Langley, was Afghanistan.  We picked up on her in Zambia in 2007 but since then, no trace.”

“And?”  Carver asked.

“Unfinished business.”

Carver lit a Marlboro, sat back and smiled.  “I heard that phrase nearly forty years ago.  James Phiri used it. Are you suggesting that she is a danger to me and James?”

“Yes, I am.”

“But my real name was never recorded in any Zambian military records.  Only James knew my real name and he never used my surname in conversation.  Why am I in any danger?”

“The world has moved on.  Photo recognition software science is fairly advanced.  You have not changed that much.  You are still fit.  You still keep fit. For sure, you are older.  You haven’t even gone grey.   You and James were photographed by Van Heerden’s driver as you left. We now know that he was returning to Van Heerden’s tent on foot, heard the shooting, hid  and saw you both as you left. He took a photograph.  It was Van Heerden’s camera… which the driver carried with him  at all times.  It is slightly blurred, a cheap camera, but, shows you both clearly and armed. The driver, we knew at the time,  was a poor man from Kitwe, hired by Van Heerden to be a driver and cook.  He sold the photograph to Van Heerden’s girlfriend, Sheila’s mother. We received a copy of that photograph by post, postmarked Paris, two weeks ago. Just the photograph, no note. It was addressed to the Head of Military Intelligence, Government of Zambia.  Just that.  No name, no address. It was passed to our unit.”

“Any other information, save for your assessment of the viability of photo recognition software?”

“No. None. It is, however, enough of a risk for me to be here after forty years.  By the way.  I did a run on your law firm’s website photograph using some of this new software.  Picked you up very quickly. OK, I accept that your law firm photograph is recent and the photograph from forty years ago isn’t and is blurred, but while we haven’t made  a trace on that blurred picture yet for you, we can’t guarantee that more sophisticated tools won’t make that link. It is a risk.”

“Yes, I can see that. “  Carver said quietly.  “OK.  Thanks.  I am aware and I will deal. Keep me posted, usual hotmail addy if you hear anything.”

“I’m sorry.  I wish we could do more”

Carver smiled “Give my best regards to James. One of the best men I have ever known. A man, military through and through, but a man who really knew what the “Rule of Law” meant.  A pity that some of our politicians and your politicians don’t.  He gave Van Heerden every opportunity to surrender and stand trial.  Van Heerden chose to draw a weapon and, never forget this, Van Heerden knew how to use it. One Zambia, One Nation

Ngaleka burst out laughing at the use of Zambia’s national motto.  “One Zambia, One Nation, Mungo!  I am proud to have met you.  You are a Zambian… always.”

The two men shook hands warmly and departed on their separate ways.


I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
 This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this.
But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life.
And my lament
 Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
 To dearest him that lives alas! away.
I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

Carver sat at his desk in his apartment on the river, just south of Battersea Bridge, and read the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins;  words that he had not read since his youth, a youth lived, in part wasted, in part of benefit,  at a school in the hills of Perthshire. Even then, Carver thought, he lived a life split between personalities he could not reconcile, he could not explain, he did not care to explain.

Sprung rhythm, the single stress of metrical feet, so important in those English literature lessons conducted by a master at the school;  a man the boys nicknamed ‘Harpic’ because he was clean round the bend, gave Carver pleasure – but for the fact that Hopkins was a man of a god, a priest and the young Carver, as in later life, was an atheist.

Carver poured a liberal measure of whisky into a tumbler, the better part of half of a quarter bottle, drank it and lit a Marlboro. The wine, in a tumbler to his left, red from the vineyards of Toscana and not expensive, was more to his taste.

Carver glanced at the twitter page on his iMac and laughed as he saw the latest tweet from a clever young woman whose tweets, surreal, ephemeral, absurd, dark and sharp now flooded his timeline in a flurry.  The tweeter was on a roll and on the gin.

Carvingknife Carvingknife
@xxxxxxxxx On da GINZ, I see!  Good effort.  I may well listen to the Bonzo Dogs later.  It has been a strange day.

Carver ignored the mobile to his right which pinged with messages to alert him to missed calls, many missed calls. It was unlikely that Google would bring up anything of interest on Sheila du Plessis, or at least the Sheila du Plessis Carver was interested in.  It didn’t. The Sheilas du Plessis on Linkedin and Facebook were not former CIA agents and did not graduate summa cum laude from Yale.

Carver laughed out loud and thought that it was probably for the best that his Sheila du Plessis had not graduated egregia cum laude – with outstanding honour.

“It is ironic” Carver mused, speaking to himself  “For a republic, a nation which separated itself from Europe, a country with little ancient history of any global  importance, save for the history they raped from the indigenous Indians who they killed at The Battle of  Wounded Knee and elsewhere and corralled into reserves, should adopt the academic pretensions of haute European academe and use the ancient language of Latin to enoble their educated youth. At least one leading university in the States had a sense of humour – Fordham –  their student newspaper translating  this as “with hysterical praise”, resulting in the university dropping the distinction.”

The wonders of Wikipedia provided this nugget for Carver as he trawled through various social media websites for information.